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Walk Through History on a Tour of Tallahassee, Florida

Aerial view of Tallahassee, Florida's state capital.

Tallahassee is nestled in the center of Florida’s panhandle, just south of the Sunshine State’s border with Georgia. First occupied by the Apalachee, and later the Seminole, the North Florida settlement eventually came under British and Spanish rule. The name Tallahassee is actually derived from a native Muskogean word for the term “old town.”

As the seat of Leon County, the city has played a major role in both U.S. and Florida history. Today, it’s a popular destination for both tourists and folks looking for somewhere new to move. No matter your interest in the city, we hope the following information helps guide your way.

What is the Capital of Florida?

If you guessed Jacksonville, we’re sorry to say that isn’t the case. Although that East Florida haven is indeed the largest city in the state, the honor belongs to the West Florida underdog we are discussing here. Don’t feel bad though! People make this mistake all the time, especially when it comes to New York. (The capital of that U.S. state is actually Albany, not New York City.)

As state capital, Tallahassee is the 7th largest city in Florida behind well known population centers like Miami, Tampa, and Orlando. It became the capital city in 1824, about 20 years before the territory was granted official statehood.

But the city in question wasn’t always Florida’s capital. Early state government chose Tallahassee because it was roughly equal distances from the region’s two prior capitals, which were St. Augustine during Spanish rule and Pensacola under the British. Nowadays, some argue that the capital should be moved to a more convenient part of the state, like Central Florida.

For better or worse, of all the confederate capitals East of the Mississippi River, Tallahassee was the only one that never fell to Union attacks during the Civil War.

Reasons to Visit in the Capital of Florida

1. Florida State Capitol Building

Florida’s Capitol Complex is comprised of both its historic Old Capitol building and its towering New Capitol building. The historic arm holds the Florida Supreme Court, Senate chambers, and more. Meanwhile, the new building houses the Florida Historic Capitol Museum and Florida legislature chambers.

Whether you’re interested in a future in government, or just want to study the past, this is your number one destination in Tallahassee.

2. Tallahassee Museum

With a name like “Tallahassee Museum,” you might be expecting something indoor, air conditioned, and a little dull. This is not the case, as this outdoor museum is like a cross between a zoo and treetop obstacle course. From ziplines and canopy crossings, to weekly events and educational installations, this “museum” is fun for adults and kids alike.

3. Alfred N. Maclay Gardens State Park

Part botanical garden, part historic site, this state park isn’t your typical outdoor area. Officially part of the Killearn Plantation Archaeological and Historic District, the park includes many buildings on the National Historic Register. Built in 1909, the Maclay house is just one of these marvels. It can be toured between January and April during the height of the blooming season.

4. Tallahassee Antique Car Museum

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The only thing Antique Car Museum founder DeVoe Moore likes more than collecting beautiful relics of the modern age is sharing them with strangers. In addition to the museum’s breathtaking collection of classic cars, exhibits include adding machines, boat motors, and knives, just to name a few. Alongside the museum, the grounds contain two event centers that can be rented out for everything from proms and weddings, to fundraisers and tradeshows.

4. Museum of Florida History

Not far from Florida State University, you’ll find this repository of history run by the Florida Department of State. While its programs and tours cost $1 a head for students, it otherwise has no fees, although donations are suggested. The museum features both permanent and traveling exhibits, so you can always go back to see old favorites or discover something new.

5. St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge

Covered with pockets of freshwater and saltwater marsh, the St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge is the prefect retreat for those just as interested in fauna as flora. Birdwatchers can count on checking several rare specimens off their list, and anyone itching to see an alligator won’t be disappointed. The park has trails with raised boardwalks to help visitors explore the area, and some hunting and fishing is permitted.

Finally, don’t forget to check out the St. Mark’s light house while you’re roaming the capital of Florida! It’s almost 200 years old and has survived two wars.

6. DeSoto Site Historic State Park

Although it is situated on a modest five acre lot, the DeSoto Historic Site is a great destination for simple day trips. The site marks the location of a Spanish encampment stationed in the area during the Winter of 1539-40. Walking among its swampy, flower-lined paths you’ll see informative installations, replicated thatch huts, and a past governor’s home.

7. Mission San Luis de Apalachee

Established in 1633, this Franciscan mission is only two miles from the capitol complex. While its history is very real, the buildings on its ground like the church, the fort, and a typical Spanish house, are all reconstructions. This does not take away from their simple splendor and educational value.

8. The Gulf of Mexico

Tallahassee is only about a half hour’s drive to warm gulf waters. Popular beaches include busy sands like Wakulla, Shell Point, and Mashes Sands. Of course, there’s a lot more to do in the gulf than play volleyball and lay around in the sun. If you’re into fishing and other forms of aquatic recreation, you’ll be pleased to have this sort of access.

9. Lake Jackson Mounds State Park

This historic site is at the North end of the city, south of the lake it takes its name from. Comprised of seven earthwork mounds that functioned as a sort of temple complex for indigenous inhabitants, the Lake Jackson Mounds are assumed to be the site of an ancient chiefdom.

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